Digital marketing budgets are expected to increase steadily during the next few years, according to Datran Media’s Annual Marketing & Media Survey, which reaches out to more than 5,000 marketing executives from Fortune 500 brands, top publishers, and leading advertising and media agencies.
This is good news for those of you hoping to break into the digital marketing industry. Whether you’re passionate about search, affiliate, social media, or another area of marketing, there are a few things you can do to prove your worthiness to prospective employers.
We asked five industry insiders about their top tips for aspiring digital marketers. Find their suggestions below and add your own in the comments.
1. Get Hands-On Marketing Experience
A degree in marketing or communications can take you a distance, but most employers are looking for candidates with marketing experience, whether that’s from a previous job, internship or side project. If you already have work experience in the marketing world, congratulations. For the rest of you, internships or other projects will be key.
“Any hands-on involvement with campaign creation, analytics, or optimization can be extremely beneficial to aspiring digital marketers,” says Traci Kuiphoff, online marketing manager at BareNecessities.com. “If you’re in school or a recent grad, the best way to gain experience is to do an internship at a company or agency that has a department or focus in online or digital marketing. Not only do you get real world hands-on experience, but it’s also great to put on your resume when you’re ready for a full-time position.”
If you are in college, look for paid or for-school-credit marketing internships at your college’s job fairs, via job search sites, and on social media sites. You could even land your next gig through Twitter.
If you don’t land an internship or find a position of interest, create your own project or enter a marketing contest. While studying marketing and international business at NYU Stern’s Undergraduate School of Business, a classmate and I entered the John Caples Student Campaign of the Year contest and created a digital marketing campaign for Pentel. Our campaign included a mix of digital, social and direct marketing communications, along with thoroughly gathered success metrics. Not only did we win first place, which included summer internships and a cash prize, but we also met industry experts who have acted as mentors to us.
2. Know the Lingo
Being able to analyze marketing campaigns and understand what worked or didn’t is the key role of a digital marketer — in order to do that, you’ll need to know (and love) the industry jargon.
“Understanding metrics on the web is key,” says Naishi Zhang, assistant marketing manager at Barnes & Noble. “The Internet provides so many ways of analyzing user behavior, and knowing how to gather and interpret data is important for success. Read widely and learn the lingo, so when someone asks about the CTR of a banner ad or the number of page views a landing page received, you’ll be ready.”
Mastering marketing terminology and metrics, and knowing what they mean, will take time and practice, but you can get a basic knowledge by picking up a marketing 101 textbook or attending an introductory course. Check out local college or continuing education courses. If that isn’t an option, the Internet is at your disposal. About.com’s glossary of marketing terms and HubSpot’s glossary of social media marketing terms are both very useful for beginners, and you should also read some of the top marketing blogs to get your daily fill of information.
3. Nurture Your Personal Online Presence
Rick Bakas, director of social media marketing at St. Supéry Vineyards and Winery said he believes a person’s online presence can be a major deciding factor on whether an aspiring digital marketer makes the cut for a job. “If an employer is deciding between two candidates,” he notes, “they might go with the person with the strong following online. Build your personal brand online. You have to show you can build your personal brand if you’re going to build someone else’s.”
Your personal brand is value-added in the job market.
“Your online clout is sometimes referred to as ‘social currency,'” he continues. “In other words, there’s a value associated with your online personal brand. Increased value carries as much weight as a great resume. A high Klout.com score for example, will help you stand out and validate what your resume says about you.”
Your Klout score is a number between 0 and 100 that measures the size of your engaged audience, the likelihood that they will amplify your messages, and your overall influence within your network. Bigger isn’t always better. Bakas explains, “Aspiring marketers would do well to grow an engaged online following, not necessarily a large online following. Again, Klout.com is a great tool to evaluate the strength of your online presence.”
4. Dabble in Everything, Specialize in Something
There isn’t just one career path in marketing. You can choose to work for an agency, with an in-house team, or start your own firm. There are multiple marketing disciplines, including affiliate, search, social media, e-mail, mobile, and display marketing, to name a few. Teams come in all sizes — some in which teammates specialize in certain areas, and others where a team can be composed of just one stellar know-it-all.
The best way to get a taste of all of the options is to dabble in a bit of everything. “Digital marketing agency experience can be extremely valuable — at an agency you can be exposed to all avenues of digital marketing from paid search, social media, mobile and everything in between,” Kuiphoff advises. “Most likely, you’ll touch a number of different accounts which can help you choose a vertical focus or specialty.”
Once you have a base knowledge in each area of marketing, you’ll be better equipped to choose a more specific path of focus. Having a specialty enables you to hone your skills in that area and become an expert, which is a valuable asset to potential employees.
5. Attend Industry Meetups and Conferences
“Put the ‘social’ in social media and spend time engaging with people in the real world,” Bakas says. “Go to lots of events to create or nurture quality interactions that can later continue online. Use plancast.com to see which upcoming events are worth going to. These experiences are ripe with opportunities to meet other digital marketers. The strongest relationships are the ones nurtured online and offline.”
Kuiphoff adds, “Digital marketing conferences not only provide a great networking opportunity, but most offer in-depth workshops that can enhance your skill set.”
Some worthwhile conferences to consider include SXSW, Search Marketing Expo, Web 2.0 Expo, Ad Age Digital Conference, ad:tech, Search Engine Strategies and Pivot.
If you’re not into the hustle and bustle of industry conferences, you can consider a more toned-down approach by attending or organizing your own Meetups. There are thousands of marketing Meetups around the world. The NY Entrepreneurs Business Network and San Francisco Entrepreneur Meetup are two of the largest.
6. Keep a Pulse on the News
Because of the nature of the Internet, digital marketing is ever-changing. If you don’t keep up with the latest trends and news, it shows in interviews and on the job. Sarah Hofstetter, SVP of emerging media and client strategy at digital marketing agency 360i, says it well:
“Remember that standing still is going backwards. Yes, it’s an adage that has been used for years to inspire ambition, but it is blatantly obvious in the digital landscape. Not only does that technology evolve at a lightening pace that transcends Moore’s law, but consumer behavior is shifting at a radical pace, and media consumption becomes more and more fragmented.
“Being on top of consumer behavior –- understanding what they’re doing online, what motivates them and their social and mobile behavior –- and staying ahead of that by learning what’s in the market and what’s on the come, will help ensure you don’t get stuck on the sidelines when interviewing for jobs in digital marketing.”
Kuiphoff recommends subscribing to industry blogs and newsletters to stay on top of the latest news. Some of my personal favorites include Ad Age, ClickZ, eMarketer, BrandWeek and AdWeek.
7. Get Technical
8. Perfect Your Resume
Everyone needs a resume; what you do with it is up to you. To help you stand out, here are a few tips from our digital marketing experts:
- “Demonstrate that you can produce results and work in a fast-paced environment, whether you’ve had previous digital experience or not. Don’t be afraid to include things about yourself that may not be directly related to the job. Resumes get scanned quickly, so it always helps to inject something creative and clever.” — Naishi Zhang, assistant marketing manager, Barnes & Noble
- “One way you can make your resume stand out is to get certified. Google has a certification program for Adwords. If you have a paid search marketing focus this can help assure a client/employer that you’re proficient in the system.” — Traci Kuiphoff, online marketing manager, BareNecessities.com
- “I’m a big believer in making sure your resume is on LinkedIn, and to have recommendations on LinkedIn. Start asking for recommendations soon. LinkedIn is like your digital resume. Make sure the facts match up. Also, Google your name to see what comes up — your prospective employers will.” — Rick Bakas, director of social media marketing, St. Supéry Vineyards and Winery
- “Use keywords to describe your previous experience that make sense for the specific job you’re applying for — if the job description or department does ‘social media outreach’ and your description of all those Twitter @replies, Facebook messages and moderated blog post comments is currently called ‘customer service,’ this does not play up your strengths as a digital marketer. Use common sense though. If their keywords don’t match your experience, don’t write anything untruthful, and consider doing things to get the types of experience for the jobs you want, such as volunteering to help with the social media of a non-profit whose cause you support.” — Dharmishta Rood, research assistant, Harvard Business School
To showcase your skills alongside multimedia and other online assets, check out some digital alternatives to the paper resume, including video resumes, VisualCVs, social resumes and LinkedIn profiles.
9. Let Curiosity and Passion Drive You
“Sure, it’s great to know about Facebook, iAds and whatever is coming next from Silicon Valley,” Hofstetter points out, “but when we’re looking for key talent at 360i, nothing matters to us more than intellectual curiosity and passion…In a business where answers and solutions aren’t always obvious, you need to be innately curious (about everything) and obsessed with the ‘why’ behind the ‘what.’ ”
It may sound cheesy at first, but she has a point. Without inquisitiveness and zeal, we’re just work drones on a mission to take over the Internet. Plus, these traits have a positive effect on the way we work, Hofstetter says:
“People who have these qualities can innovate and identify trends from seemingly ordinary data — they’re the first to try new things (platforms, tools, technology) and think about how marketers can benefit from them. They don’t always have the answers, but when you’re being asked to do never-been-done-before things, there isn’t a rulebook. That’s why when we’re recruiting, we look for people who know how to ask the right questions.
10. Unplug for Your Sanity
Staring at a computer screen all day long can take a toll on your body, mind and social life. Get away from that monitor and breathe for crying out loud!
Bakas advocates getting out every once in a while to work on who you are as a person outside of work. “Because transparency is important, it’s important to be a good person in the real world,” he says. “It’ll translate into the digital world — you can’t fake being a good person if you’re a jerk in real life. Unplug for your own sanity, but also to continue growing as a person in life.”
I second that. Now, get out of here and get a job.
Digital Marketing Job Listings
Every week we put out a list of social media and web job opportunities. While we post a huge range of job listings, we’ve selected some of the best digital marketing jobs from the past two weeks to get you started. Happy hunting!